One thing we all can agree on: America needs compassion now more than ever.
In this era of social and political polarization, we need to resolve conflict with compassion and wisdom based on discernment.
Nowhere, perhaps, is compassionate wisdom more thoroughly articulated than in Buddhist thought and practice. The Buddha himself cleared a path toward enlightenment, toward the awakening of the mind to the direct nature of reality, leading Buddhists to aspire to see the world “as it is.” According to this tradition, only when we strip ourselves of delusion, self-cherishing, attachments, and clinging desires can we know true compassion and bring an end to suffering.
Those seeking to resolve conflict must continually observe emotions, passions, and delusions that color perceptions, harden opinions, and drain empathy from our hearts. We work diligently to uncover hidden influences and to detect deception (including our own); we shift through confusions and identify false attributions that alter our perceptions. Using “diamond cutter” discernment (The Diamond Cutter by Geshe Michael Roach) we inspect our reasoning for flaws or for contradictions that are a sign of false or illogical assumptions.
I offer as an example a contradiction that has stood out for me. It concerns American Buddhists who, in the same breath, bemoan the fate of Tibetans while supporting political figures at home who idolize the historical oppressors of Buddhism.
American Buddhists, particularly those who adhere to Tibetan Buddhism, find China’s treatment of the Tibetan people and their exiled political leader, the Dalai Lama, abhorrent. They are justifiably saddened and repulsed by a history of repression, genocide, torture, and enslavement. Elephant Journal has for its part decried the abuse suffered by Tibetans, including Buddhist monks, at the hands of Chinese officials.
It seems, however, that many who decry the abuse are unaware that the current Tibetan policy is a legacy of the Cultural Revolution; its roots can be found in the days when Chairman Mao ruled China. Mao Tse Tung deemed Buddhism the mere relic of a ‘backward’ culture. Tibetans who followed its centuries-old path toward spiritual enlightenment were in need of ‘re-education’ and liberation from their feudal oppressors, the political and religious authorities who had, despite all their faults, safeguarded the Dharma since Padmasambhava.
Despite this history and despite their outrage, many American Buddhists support an administration that includes staffers like Anita Dunn, the (former) Director of Communications for the current White House who publicly praised Mao, a leader who orchestrated the murder of tens of millions of human beings. Hard to believe? Listen to Dunn’s exaltation of her “favorite philosopher” in her own words.
Dunn extols the virtues of a political philosophy that inspired an organized campaign to eradicate a culture and a religion. It should be further noted that she led White House attacks on Fox News. Dunn is not an anomaly, a rogue staffer; instead, we find other tapes featuring staffers and advisers advancing similar endorsements.
Thus we face contradiction: we support the Free Tibet movement at the same time we support domestic politicians who endorse the very policies and philosophy that enslave Tibet. When we support those who idolize the perpetrators of genocide, when we support those who idolize leaders who orchestrated the death of millions of human beings, are we being compassionate? Only careful discernment allows us to make the correct assessment.
In our diligent practice of “walking meditation” we must develop an ability to correctly identify sources of compassion. We must also learn to detect the sources of a deficit of compassion. With such wisdom, we can make sure our actions decrease conflict and suffering in the world.
Greg Stone works as a mediator in Los Angeles. After a career spent producing and directing commercials and short films, such as the fund raising film for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Stone made a late-in-life career change, completing a Masters in Dispute Resolution at the Straus Institute at Pepperdine Law School. Years ago, while he was living in Boulder after graduating from CU, he met Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, which rekindled his love of Buddhism. Recently, his passion for the Christian mystical tradition led him to study the peacemaking legacy of St. Francis of Assisi, which resulted in his latest book Taming the Wolf: Resolving the Conflicts Ruining Your Life, a manual designed to guide parties through conflict resolution.